Although flour is used in numerous recipes, you probably don't give much thought to where it comes from or how it's made. While there are very few working mills left these days, the ones that continue to operate pay homage to American ingenuity. They also show the impact relatively simple processes and technology can have on society. If you've ever wondered where flour comes from, consult the guide below to learn some interesting facts. 

The Origin of Automated Flour Mills in America

While it's true that grains have been a staple of people's diets since ancient times, the milling process wasn't fully automated until fairly recently. In 1785, Oliver Evans developed the first automated working mill in Delaware. The device used water power to operate continuously. It also included many other technological advances, including conveyor belts and bucket elevators to move ingredients from one section of the mill to another. 

Evan's flour mill was notable for decreasing the number of workers needed for the milling process. However, it was also more efficient than other processes at the time, as it could boost how much flour was produced from a certain amount of grain. This efficiency led to Evan's invention being adopted by businesses all over the nation. 

How Flour Mills Operated in the Past

working mills

Water flowing through a sluice gate would turn a wheel, which could be mounted horizontally or vertically, depending on the design. As the water wheel turned, it operated smaller gears, which then turned two millstones placed on top of each other. 

As the millstones turned, the raw grain would be rendered into flour. Grooves in the top stone carried the milled flour and sent it down a chute, where it was collected in a sack resting at the bottom. 

How Working Mills Operate Today

While the milling process is very similar today, most modern mills use electricity or fuel to power operations. Some replaced the millstones with rollers made from steel or cast iron, but stone milling is often preferred for its flavor and nutritional content. Metals often become quite hot during the milling process, but stone remains at an even temperature and grinds grain slowly for a better result. 


When in search of an authentic working mill experience, Valentine Mills in Dandridge, TN, has a lot to offer. More than just a quaint country store, they use their working grain mill to produce flour for the products they sell. They also feature a variety of tasty items, including jams and jellies. Stop by today to see the milling process or call (865) 309-9812 for more information. Visit their Facebook to learn more.